God, I Have Not Known



Can we stop? Please. For a moment. For some reason this is a crisis. And I’m not sure what to think. Not that you would say anything. But please, just listen.

I’m confused.

That’s okay– right?

I don’t know who I am and I don’t know what to do. My calling or whatever. And for godssakes, I’m supposed to be an adult. I’m supposed to know these things by now. What the hell happened to my instruction manuel for life? Did it get lost in the mail amongst perfumed love notes, grocery coupons and post cards greased with the cheap diners of far and away where grandparents scrawl out a “wish you were here” before shipping it off to their Billy, Bobby and- dadgummit what’s your name?- grandkids? It must have. Because it’s not here. And I haven’t a clue.

So I wake up, I brush my teeth. I boil an egg and I eat it- with a piece of toast- while I’m reading my Bible. Properly. With an austere facade of understanding.

I walk uphill- both ways so I don’t lie to my kids. The air is frigid right today. I breathe hard, I think hard. I sit in rooms that reek of stale effort. And I take books, flip them open, their pages crinkle and fold under my fingers. And I listen. I read. I hear.

You can know God, the German professor says, his words like harsh snow upon this barren ground. But you can never comprehend God.

I jot this down, in the margins of my paper. Apart from the real notes. The actual notes. The non-anecdotal notes. The ones I’ll actually be tested on. The ones that really don’t matter.

In Hebrew the word for knowing signifies a much deeper kind of intimacy. Adam knew his wife Eve and she gave birth to a son. Of course he then killed his brother and they were all still banished. Lot of good that did them. I can’t help but wonder: Eve…Adam…did you at least grab some more fruit before you left?

Stupid question, perhaps. But it’d help me understand.

When I was a child I wanted to be (in no particular order) a police man, a trumpeter, a quarterback with chiseled arms pointing up to heaven as we run out on Friday nights, a drummer in a punk band (dreadful phase, that one was) and finally an auspicious poet, the sort which is allowed to smoke putrid tobacco which attaches itself to my untrimmed beard for days prompting adoration from throngs of women, the kind that use pencils for hair pins, waiting for the next word I speak as they push back their glasses.

Class ends. I lift my books like a hen covering her chicks. It’s time to walk home.

Outside a moth lies on the ground, frozen at my feet. It’s body looks like an hourglass when I crane my neck.

Perhaps I am Moses in the desert and the Spirit is just having trouble lighting the bush. Or maybe I’m Elijah in the wilderness and the delivery angel with my food screwed up his directions. Perhaps I’m what’s-his-face (damn, I should’ve paid more attention in Sunday school) with the fleece. And both mornings it’s wet and I’m confused and there’s that feeling like nausea, or maybe butterflies, like prom night and hospital waiting rooms and punching and laughing and crying out screaming “what the hell do I do now?” all at the same time. That kinda of feeling. And I know you’ve felt it too- because of that whole incarnation shindig. So maybe, just maybe, you could allow this? For just a second?

I step over the moth.

Robert Falcon Scott led a British expedition to the south pole. They arrived 34 days after a Norwegian group had already claimed the prize. Returning from failure, every member of the expedition perished. Before dying (the following is speculation, but if you’ll allow me it might be true) a final man with a final page of his journal, gripped a pencil and scrawled through the frost: “God, we have not known.”

And I do not know who I am or what I am. I’m not innocent, but I’ve no grandiose guilt for which I should atone. I am not smart or talented- as Einstein once said- at best I’m strangely curious.

And this curiosity grips me, like hunger, like love, like lust, like fear. It grips me and I just want to know.

I arrive home. The apartment is quiet. A note from my wife says she’s at the gym. I put on water. Cut up some vegetables. Perhaps this commentary would make a good cutting board.

This is who I am. And it’s what I do. For God, I have not known.

Could we ever?

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